The student news site of Londonderry High School

Lancer Spirit Online

Breaking News
The student news site of Londonderry High School

Lancer Spirit Online

The student news site of Londonderry High School

Lancer Spirit Online

Oldies But Goldies: Dead Kennedy’s satirize enemies with punk-rock sound

TJ Ruzicka
Let the DKs satirize their way into your playlists with the song selection below.

They’re unruly, recalcitrant, and absolutely antithetic to any establishment.

They’re the masters of rebellious satire in music.

They’re the Dead Kennedys (DKs).

The DKs rocked the music scene by sticking it to the man and questioning all forms of authority and establishment they came across.  They would use Juvenalian satire, a more blunt and brash form of satirical criticism seen in works like Animal Farm or Fahrenheit 451, to eviscerate anyone who they disagreed with.  They also used Horatian satire, a more light-hearted, joking from of satirical commentary seen in media like Saturday Night Live, to have a little fun when doing it.

Take a song like “Kill the Poor.”  Composed of Juvenalian lyrics like, “Efficiency and progress is ours once more / Now that we have the Neutron bomb / It’s nice and quick and clean and gets things done / Away with excess enemy, but no less value to property,” the song is a satirical take on the government’s solution to poverty.  The message is dark, so the DK’s use Horatian satire in the upbeat, jingoistic manner it’s sung in to make it funny.

Another example of this musical satire is their song “California Uber Alles.”  The song was a defamation of then-Democratic California governor Jerry Brown. Brown was poised to make a presidential run, and the DKs pounced on the opportunity to thrash his new-age ideology.  With Juvenalian lyrics like, “Zen fascists will control you / Hundred percent natural / You will jog for the master race, and always wear the happy face,” the song makes Brown out to be a fascist hippie.

The Dead Kennedys were indiscriminatory in who they took down, though.  Branching out to criticize Republican President Ronald Reagan. The Juvenalian song with lyrics like, “Human rights will soon go away / I am your Shah today / Now I command all of you / Now you’re all gonna pray in school / And I’ll make sure they’re Christian too,” which makes Reagan out to be trying to create a theocratic, fascist, Christian democracy.

Not only taking on politics, the DKs attacked pop culture, as well.  In their song “MTV Get Off the Air,” the band argued that MTV was neutering the rebellion of rock and roll and commercializing punk-rock.  The message was hammered home with lyrics like, “My job is to help destroy what’s left of your imagination by feeding endless doses of sugar-coated mindless garbage,” in a Horatian MTV DJ voice.

“Pull My Strings” was another DK attack on the music industry, this time criticizing how money drives the industry. Lyrics like, “I’m tired of self-respect / I can’t afford a car / I wanna be a prefab superstar / I wanna be a tool / Don’t need no soul. Wanna make big money playing rock and roll,” call out artists who “sold out” from making real art.

The song’s satire continues into the chorus, where the DKs made a parody of “My Sharona,” but instead, attacked Payola, which was the practice of paying radio DJs to air specific songs. The chorus, “Drool, drool, drool, drool, drool, drool, My Payola!” was accompanied by the Dead Kennedys wearing shirts with an “S” on them and pulling a tie over it to make a dollar sign when performing the song.

“Holiday in Cambodia,” was probably the Dead Kennedys’ most Juvenalian piece.  The song was a parody on yuppy college students who were unaware of their privilege. The song contrasts their cushy situation to the atrocities happening to educated individuals in Cambodia.  The song starts with the kids thinking they understand the plight of the poor, then has them go on a trip to Cambodia. The lyrics, “So, you’ve been to school for a year or two, and you know you’ve seen it all / In daddy’s car thinking you’ll go far / Back east your type don’t crawl / Well you’ll work harder with a gun in your back for a bowl of rice a day / Slave for soldiers till you starve then your head is skewered on a stake,” solidifies the DKs’s anger towards the ignorant societal elites of America.

The fact that the Dead Kennedys’s music is listened to by a niche audience, and the fact that their messages can still be heard in political rhetoric today proves one thing:

You can only build bridges; you can’t force them to cross.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
TJ Ruzicka
TJ Ruzicka, Arts and Entertainment Editor
Described in one word… ineffable.

Comments (0)

The Lancer Spirit editorial board welcomes your comments. We reserve the right to delete/edit comments that contain the following: Off-topic statements or links, abusive content, vulgarity, poor grammar, personal attacks or spam.
All Lancer Spirit Online Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Activate Search
The student news site of Londonderry High School
Oldies But Goldies: Dead Kennedy’s satirize enemies with punk-rock sound